Advisory Board Member Owen Talks About Surgery at Nkhoma

Owen Chipewa, Clinical Officer, has been in residence at Nkhoma Mission Hospital for three years and is an integral part of the WAM/Watsi team. Owen, who has been a clinical officer for 7 years, said early on his life he felt drawn to medicine, surgery especially. After completing his Clinical Medicine Diploma, Owen headed to Nkhoma to practice surgery and family medicine.

            “I wanted to come to Nkhoma because this is one of the best hospitals in the country,” Owen said in an interview in October 2017. “This hospital is one of the best facilities in the country to do surgery, the hospital is able to meet the needs of the patients and the reputation of the surgical staff and the facility itself is excellent”.

            The surgeries Owen performs range from Watsi-funded procedures such as prostatectomies, hysterectomies, and hernia repairs, to trauma and cesarean sections. But Owen’s day does not start with scrubbing in; everything starts with a team meeting. “Normal surgery days are Tuesday and Thursday, sometimes all day, but occasionally we have an emergency cesarean section or a trauma patient who needs to be in theater right away”, Owen explained. “The OR can be very, very busy!”

            When asked how the Watsi and WAM partnership has worked for the hospital, Owen did not hesitate with his answer, “Watsi is the best funding institution we have. This program helps so much. I have patients come with no shoes, in rags, desperate for help with no way to pay for treatment. Now, they can have their operations and live a healthy, full life. This program has impacted the community, and the country. This work transforms lives, and I get to see my patients leave here whole and well.”

Our Model-How Our Partnership With Watsi Works

WAM is a proud partner of Watsi, a groundbreaking crowdfunding platform that is changing the way medical procedures in impoverished areas of the world are funded.

Based in San Francisco, Watsi enables anyone to directly support life-changing healthcare for people around the world by connecting patients and donors online. They find patients by partnering with programs like ours that have a strong, positive relationship with local medical communities and a commitment to provide reliable support wherever possible.

Our partnership is an incredibly effective way to extend care to the people in our community who need it most like Chisomo, an 11 year old who needs a $334 surgery to repair a hernia. We select people to be Watsi patients if they are afflicted with conditions that, if left untreated, would severely impact their quality of life, and if they can not afford the treatment needed. We then submit profiles of these patients, which includes basic information on the treatment and individual patients’ stories, to the Watsi team. Once approved, donors read these profiles and contribute as little as $5 for the needed procedure. In order to maximize our focus on helping people with few resources, especially in rural areas, we only submit patient to Watsi whose treatments cost less than $1,500.

100% of donations through Watsi go directly to funding patient procedures. This includes medical supplies, diagnostics, transportation, food, lodging, and follow-up care, covering an entire hospital visit so patients can receive the care they need without worrying about paying for it out-of-pocket. With Watsi, WAM provides low-cost, high-impact procedures to as many patients as possible, revolutionizing the funding model for non-profits.

Treating Cervical Cancer

Ester is a 39-year-old mother of five from a village called Msewa in Malawi's Central Region. She likes cooking nsima, the staple food in the Malawian diet made of maize meal, and washing clothes. A year ago, Ester started experiencing symptoms that led to a diagnosis of cervical cancer. Her symptoms made it difficult for her to farm and take care of her children.

Cervical cancer is extremely prevalent in Malawi for many reasons, including early age of sexual initiation, poor access to screening, and high HIV rates. If changes in cervical cells are not found early through routine screening, they can progress to cancer, which is what happened in Ester's case. By the time she arrived at the hospital her only treatment option was a hysterectomy, which she could not afford. A hysterectomy can be a life-saving solution for patients like Ester.

Luckily, the World Altering Medicine team and clinical staff identified Ester at Nkhoma Hospital as a candidate for Watsi funding. We explained the process to her and she was overcome with joy that her family's wellbeing would not have to be jeopardized by trying to afford the surgery. On September 29th, Ester underwent a successful hysterectomy and is now likely cancer-free. 

When we visited Ester after her operation, she and her family were feeling happy and excited. Ester said, "I am giving thanks to the doctors and to Watsi."

The ability to fund Ester's surgery and surgery for many women with cervical cancer is a result of generosity from people like you. Let's continue improving access to quality healthcare together,

KEEP Coordinator Blessings' Graduation

We are very proud of our KEEP Coordinator, Blessings Ackim, on her graduation from Nkhoma University with a Bachelor's degree in Education.

Blessings works as a teacher at Kabudula Community Day Secondary School (KCDSS), where she serves as our KEEP Coordinator. She is extremely dedicated to her students and leads many extracurricular activities including a girls empowerment club, computer club, and community service activities. As the only female teacher at the school she is viewed as a role model and resource for the teen girls, who face many barriers to staying in school. 

While studying, Blessings continued to work and traveled twice a month to Nkhoma, a town approximately two hours from Kabudula, to study during the weekend.

Well done, Blessings!

The Postnatal Ward Complete

WAM has been working with our partners, Warm Heart For Malawi and Kabudula Community Hospital, to renovate and expand the postnatal ward. 

The hospital sees an average of 15 deliveries per day and each mother stays with her newborn in the postnatal ward for 48 hours following delivery. 

Before, the ward was overcrowded. Women and babies were sharing beds and sleeping on the floor. The windows were broken and toilets were not functioning. Women would leave the ward to use a pit latrine outside in the days following birth. There was no working hand sink in the entire ward.

With generous help from Warm Heart For Malawi and in collaboration with the hospital team, the ward has now been expanded and will fit 20 beds, almost double the previous capacity. The walls are freshly painted. Three flush toilets, two showers, and hand sinks are working and will provide a significant increase in the sanitation and hygiene of the ward. 

Sadly, maternal and neonatal mortality rates are extremely high in Malawi, but many of these deaths are preventable. Our hope is that, through this project, women and newborns will have a safer experience in those critical 48 hours following childbirth.

A Visit To Khongoni Health Center

Kabudula Hospital is the referral center for eight community health centers in the catchment area. One of these health centers is Khongoni serving a population of 54,000 people and refers patients to Kabudula each week. Built in 1970 this health center is approximately 30 minutes’ drive from Kabudula Hospital down a bumpy dirt road. Upon arriving at the health center WAM staff were welcomed by Health Surveillance Officers and quickly put to work in the malaria testing and immunization room while waiting to speak with the nursing assistant in charge. 

WAM staff were happy to see that of the six malaria rapid tests administered none of the women and children had malaria. Following the malaria testing, WAM staff recorded tetanus injections for pregnant women in their patient profile booklets. Although malaria tests and tetanus injections were available that day, this health center suffers from many shortages and barriers to providing quality health care services. Electricity was bought up as the top challenge facing this facility - with no electricity the health center is less able to deal with complicated deliveries and mothers are at risk during child birth. Additionally, they have not received handwashing soap in three months and experience a stock-out of vital drugs every two weeks. With the support of WAM, medications can be sought from Kabudula pharmacy to re-stock medications when a stock-out occurs.

General Surgeon Visits Kabudula

This month WAM partnered with Access Health Africa to bring quality surgical care to the Kabudula Community.

Baker Henson, a general surgeon from the US and Cofounder of Access Health Africa, volunteered to provide patients in the Kabudula Health Catchment Area with needed surgical treatments.

The first day we spent at the hospital we brought with us a huge duffel full of surgical supplies; sutures, dressings, head lamps, gloves, gowns, etc. We filled a spare room in the surgical ward and immediately turned to the line of patients who were eagerly awaiting our arrival. Each patient was screened and registered for surgery that week.

For the next several days, a combination of WAM and Access Health Africa staff returned to the hospital to perform surgeries that patients could otherwise wait years to access, if at all. A few of the days we had no access to electricity, but the surgical team worked on, using headlamps. 

Surgical care can be very difficult to access in Malawi, particularly in rural areas like Kabudula. Bringing expertise and care to the local health facility removes many barriers that patients face and enables them to receive quality treatment. We are committed to improving access to care in this community, and hope to serve even more surgical patients in coming years.


Grey Is All Smiles After Surgery

Grey Chiwatu is a 72-year-old subsistence farmer from Malawi's Central Region. 

Grey came to Nkhoma hospital experiencing symptoms associated with an enlarged prostate. He was diagnosed with a condition called benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), which is a non-cancerous enlargement of the prostate that can lead to various symptoms including pain, discomfort, difficulty urinating, and required catheter use.

Grey was unable to participate in farming activities last season due to his symptoms and the difficulty from using a catheter everyday, jeopardizing his and his family's well-being and income.

Grey described this difficulty and his hope when I visited him before surgery. He told me, "Once the operation is done, I will be a hopeful person and a happy person. There has been a downfall in everything because of my situation. My family and I are all looking forward to the success of the operation."

Through our partnership with Watsi we were able to register Grey to receive a prostatectomy, for free. On June 9th, 2016, Grey underwent a successful operation, and is expected to have a complete reduction of symptoms.

When I visited Grey after surgery, his spirits were high and he was feeling excited to return to his farm, and his family.

Meet Aness

Aness Musa is in form 3 (third year) at Kabudula Community Day Secondary School. WAM supports her by providing school fees, without which she would no longer be in school. 

Aness is the youngest five children and the only one with a chance of completing secondary school. Sadly, Aness' father passed away last year, leaving her mother as the sole provider. To support herself and Aness she asks for small jobs from other families in their village. From these earnings she is unable to provide Aness with adequate food, school supplies, or clothes.

Aness walks an hour to school each day and is rarely absent. She hopes to attend university after she graduates, and eventually join the Malawian Defense Force. Her mother shared her vision for Aness: "Aness is a hardworker at school with an encouraging and bright future. I see what she is doing and just want to assist her."

WAM is committed to seeing her and the 41 other students we currently support through all four years of secondary school. We hope to see Aness graduate next year and realize her dream of attending university.

Delivery Day

Each month, WAM delivers a supply of essential medications to Kabudula Community Hospital. Although the hospital receives drug stocks from the Ministry of Health, these stocks are unpredictable and often insufficient. We are there to fill the gap.

The medications we donate are procured from various wholesale pharmacies in Lilongwe, Malawi's capital. The WAM team picks them up and delivers them to the hospital, where they are added to the pharmacy's inventory. As Kabudula is the referral hospital for eight smaller health centers, these drugs benefit the sickest children in the health catchment area of nearly 350,000 people. 

WAM was founded partially from the observation of staggering numbers of preventable child deaths in low resource settings. Our medication donation program addresses this need in the most direct way. The meds treat some of the primary causes for child mortality in Malawi, including malaria and pneumonia.